Downing of Russian plane has serious consequences for Putin at home, in Central Asia, and in Ukraine

Erdogan and Putin (Image: gazetanova.ru)

Erdogan and Putin (Image: gazetanova.ru) 

2015/11/26 • Analysis & Opinion, Politics

The shooting down of a Russian military plane by Turkish forces after Kremlin ignored repeated warnings from Ankara not to violate Turkey’s airspace not only increases the risks of a clash between Russia and the West but has serious consequences for Putin at home, in Central Asia and the Caucasus, and in Ukraine.

The consequences inside Russia could prove to be the most fateful. While Vladimir Putin has ratcheted up the bellicosity of the government-controlled media in response to what Turkey has done, the steps he has taken simultaneously annoy Russians – now, they won’t be able to vacation in Turkey – but highlighted how isolated Russia is and how few levers it possesses.

Any Russian move against Turkey militarily or via hybrid war involving the Kurds would backfire. On the one hand, Turkey is a NATO member and can count on Article 5 guarantees. And on the other, Ankara could end Russia’s hopes for a pipeline west and even block the straits to Russian shipping; and any Russian support for the Kurds would undermine Syria’s Assad.

These have all been the subject of intense discussion in the Russian-language Internet media over the last 24 hours.

These discussions suggest that Russians can see an increasing gulf between the bombastic assertions by Putin about Russia’s power in the world and the real limits on the Kremlin leader’s ability to act when the chips are down, a gap some observers say may trigger greater opposition to Putin and his regime.

That the Russian government is worried about at least some of its citizens drawing such conclusions including in the first instance millions of Muslims and Turks inside Russia is suggested by the words today of the Supreme Mufti of Russia, Talgat Tajuddin, who said Turkey must apologize for what it has done.

That represents a bridge to the second set of consequences of the Kremlin reaction to the shooting down of the Russian plane. Moscow has failed to see that its harsh words against Turkey have an impact on the much larger Turkic world that includes not only Turks inside Russia but those in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

While Kremlin propaganda has sought to portray the downing of the plane as the result of American opposition to Moscow’s line, Russian outlets have focused much of their anger on Turkey with articles talking about Russian-Turkish wars in the past and Turkey’s supposed duplicity regarding the Soviets.

That may play well with most Russians, but it is already having a negative impact in the Turkic areas of the Caucasus and Central Asia, something that is likely to become even more important because Ankara has explicitly positioned itself as the defender of the Turkmens of Syria.

At a minimum, that will make the populations of these countries less well-disposed to Russia and likely make their governments more inclined to oppose Moscow and even ally themselves with Western countries, if the latter are clever enough to take advantage of the situation.

And the third set of consequences of the plane shoot down are likely to involve Ukraine. Many analysts have been suggesting that Putin’s involvement in Syria will limit his ability to expand his aggression in Ukraine. But there are at least two reasons to think that such optimism may be misplaced.

On the one hand, the only resources Putin has are those of hard power – that is to say military force. He cannot use that easily against NATO: the risks are too high. But using force against Ukraine could give him a victory, especially if he decides to use Russian forces to obtain a land bridge to Crimea, currently suffering from an energy and products blockade.

If he used land forces to do that, he might be able to once again change the subject and come out looking like a winner, especially as he might even be able to avoid tougher sanctions given that some in the West would accept a Kremlin argument that he had no choice but to engage in such a “humanitarian” operation given Ukrainian policy.

And on the other, Putin may conclude that now that his conflict with the West has escalated because of Russian violations of Turkish and thus NATO airspace has escalated, he has nothing to lose by increasing his aggression in Ukraine and getting the land bridge to Crimea many have said all along he wants.

Consequently, Moscow’s reaction to the shooting down of its airplane is likely to send shock waves far beyond the incident itself and the countries immediately involved. And it may even force Putin to double or quit his aggressive behavior, attacking not those he most opposes but rather those whose defeat he thinks he can achieve and thus do him the most good.

Edited by: A. N.

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  • Being

    How many Ukraine planes and helicopters have had Russia terrorists shot down in Ukraine??

    Why is Russia so wondering about, it is normal to shot down a plane, you should know best, how normal it is. (and not only army planes).

  • Czech Mate

    Hollande = l’imbécile utile

    Why did it have to be Erdogan to show NATO how you deal with a ruskie bully?!

    So tragic that putler only draws his “strength” from the weakness of our inept leadership.
    Spineless cowards, all of them, from Hollande to Obama.

    Thanks Barry, for bringing us peace for our time!

  • laker48

    Putin keeps walking into his own trap. He didn’t pass the KGB test to make a general for a reason.

  • Dagwood Bumstead

    While I don’t rule out a strike against the Ukraine, I think the demented dwarf is far more likely to go for easy pickings: Belarus. Any action against Kyiv will at the very least result in serious Dwarfstan casualties and there’s no guarantee of success. And any territory he seizes may well be devastated as the so-called LNR and DNR are. He doesn’t even have the funds to restore the enclaves, never mind any other territory he might or might not manage to grab.
    Belarus on the other hand won’t put up any resistance. Its army and security service are riddled with Dwarfstan moles, especially at the top. Seizing Belarus would get rid of Lukashenko, who isn’t as stalwart an ally as the dwarf assumed he would be. It would increase the size of his armed forces and also the length of the frontier Kyiv has to watch. Last but not least, he is hardly likely to be hit with any action from the US or EU, except for a few verbal protests. It’s not as if Lukashenko is a firm favourite of the west’s. With Belarus annexed he can proclaim he has returned another piece of the Russian Empire to Muscovy and retain the support of the nationalists.
    A further attack on the Ukraine is a different kettle of fish, however. The EU will be useless as usual, especially Merkel and Hollande, but Canada and the US will be a different matter. Even useless Obama will slap REAL sanctions on Dwarfstan, sanctions that will REALLY bite. Plus, he will probably finally cave in to Congress pressure to supply lethal aid to Kyiv- he would no longer have any excuse to do nothing. Finally, while the dwarf may have the strength to seize the territory, he may not be able to hold onto it for any length of time.

    • Quartermaster

      There is little sympathy for Lukashenko in Europe because of his authoritarianism. I doubt the EU will like an invasion of Belarus, but they won’t do much more than make noise, and little at that.
      Lukashenko does seem to be waking up to see Putin as he really is, however. If he doesn’t start doing something to strengthen his military, he’ll find himself in worse shape than Crimea.

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        I think Lukashenko is perfectly aware as to what Putin really is, and has been for a very long time- longer than useless Frau Ribbentrop Adolfina Merkelain, Hollandier, Obama etc. His problem, however, is that Belarus depends on Dwarfstan 100% economically, unlike the Ukraine. This limits his freedom of action, and so do all the pro-Dwarfstan moles in the Belarusian armed forces and KGB.
        An invasion and annexation of Belarus would, however, destroy any chances of the EU and US sanctions being lifted or reduced. And although the dwarf claims they have no effect on Dwarfstan’s economy, the fact that he is trying desperately to get them lifted proves otherwise. The collapse of the prices for oil, gas and other resources is the real killer, however.

  • laker48

    Turkey called his bluff.